Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Updated Again: Martin Tankleff Massacres Entire Faculty and Student Body at Hofstra University

Okay, that's a very, very big exaggeration!

One of the biggest murder cases on Long Island in the last two decades was the brutal killing of Seymour and Arlene Tankleff in their Belle Terre home in 1988. Police immediately zeroed in on the Tankleff's 16-year old son Martin. He was convicted at trial in 1990. A useful summary of the case can be read in this Newsday article.

Recently, Martin Tankleff's conviction was overturned and he was released from prison. He is now currently attending classes at my alma mater, Hofstra University, as per this article in Newsday. The article mentions several students who are somewhat uneasy about having a person previously convicted of murder going to the same school as them.

One of the students frets "I think it's pretty unsafe if he's just here under no watch." With last year's Virginia Tech massacre in mind, one of the students interviewed by Newsday felt that Hofstra should have notified the student body that Tankleff would be attending their school.

Personally, I don't believe that Hofstra University had any obligation to notify its students about Tankleff. Lest we forget, his conviction was overturned. It's not a situation like a man who served time for rape was attending the university and there was a reasonable fear among female students that he might not be able to contain his urges if he came upon one of them in a dark, isolated part of the campus at night.

To be honest, not having followed the case that closely, I couldn't tell you 100% either way whether Martin Tankleff is innocent or guilty of the murder of his parents. That being the case, his conviction was overturned, and I personally give Martin Tankleff the benefit of the doubt that he is innocent. I wish him well as he starts his life over again as a free man after some seventeen years in prison. Still, his professors might want to be careful and not grade his term papers too harshly!

UPDATE: A commenter to this post has brought to my attention the website martytankleff.org. Go check it out if this case is of interest to you.

SECOND UPDATE: Newsday has published a couple of letters to the editor today critical of its story on Tankleff taking classes at Hofstra and the reactions to it by some of the Hofstra students mentioned in the article.

6 comments:

tina said...

I had heard about this and thought what a waste of his life, being in prison for something he didn't do. I don't think the students had to be notified at all.

Doctor News said...

Marty was a victim many times over. His parents were murdered, and then his nightmare was compounded by his being wrongly accused and convicted on the basis of a false confession coerced out of him by a detective found to have perjured himself in a previous murder case. In spite of all this, he never gave up and worked to achieve his freedom, coming out of it a remarkable human being. The kids at Hofstra can learn a lot from him and should be grateful to have him. Come on over and read all about it on www.MartyTankleff.org. You'll see what's up.

Tommy said...

Thanks Doctor News. I will update a post with a link to the site.

Spanish Inquisitor said...

Tommy, you just his the main nerve on one of my pet peeves, but probably inadvertently.

Police immediately zeroed in on the Tankleff's adopted 16-year old son Martin.

Why it it when a child kills his parents, anyone else, or even picks his nose in public, the press always points out that the child is adopted? You don't see the paper referring to a child as naturally born when he does the same thing. Why point out that he's adopted? What does the legal proceeding that placed him with his parents years before have to do with his crime? When someone does something good, or gains positive notoriety, do we point out that he was adopted? No. Only when they do something like Martin Tankleff allegedly did.

When was the last time someone mentioned "adopted President Gerald Ford" or "Adopted First Lady Nancy Reagan", or how about "Adopted former Baltimore Pitcher Jim Palmer"?

This perpetuates negative stereotypes of adoptions, and makes it even harder for adopted children to feel good about themselves. It helps create a vicious cycle, where children with apparent low self esteem commit crimes or other negative acts, which are reported and read by adopted children whose own self-esteem is diminished as a result.

What we should be doing is noting that George Bush and Osama bin Laden were natural born children, when we report their crimes.

Ok. Rant off.

Tommy said...

Hey SI!

Very good point. I can only guess that publicizing that a person accused of a crime was adopted is somehow seen as trying to paint a comprehensive picture of the person's background. There might be some subtle bias in the way people think in criminal cases that a defendant who was adopted might have issues that a biological child wouldn't. For example, in news reports of the time, Long Island's most famous serial killer, Joel Rifkin, it was pointed out a number of times that he was adopted. The inference seemed to be that knowing that he was adopted may have negatively impacted Rifkin enough to contribute to the factors that drove him to become a serial murderer of prostitutes.

You are right that it can create a stigma against people who were adopted. I will certainly be more careful in the future in the way I write about such situations. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this!

Spanish Inquisitor said...

Sorry, Tommy, didn't mean to lay that all on you, but I've already written two letters to the editor on this, and spoken to the Editor, but I still see it time and again. Adoptees really do have enough problems dealing with the obvious side effects of adoption, without having their whole class stigmatized.

I didn't mean to hijack the post either.

Just pretend I wasn't here. :)